In the 2020 fiscal year, which ends today, 21 people died in ICE custody, according to a CNN tally of data released by the agency. That's more than double the number of deaths in fiscal year 2019 -- and the highest annual death toll since 2005.
Immigrant rights advocates say the deaths are a sign of deteriorating conditions, serious problems with medical care and ICE's flawed approach to handling the pandemic. ICE said it takes the health and safety of detainees seriously -- and maintains that deaths in its custody are "exceedingly rare."
More than a third of the people who died in ICE custody this year had tested positive for Covid-19 -- including a 56-year-old man from the Marshall Islands, who died in a Louisiana hospital
, and a 61-year-old man from Mexico, who died in a Georgia hospital
But advocates said the novel coronavirus isn't the only factor to blame for the growing number of deaths in ICE custody.
"We're seeing the pandemic is playing a role -- but also the conditions of detention, and what it does both to your mental health and the really poor medical care that exists inside," said Silky Shah, executive director of Detention Watch Network.
"As we're looking at this death toll going up, what it tells us is ... it's a system that shouldn't exist. People should be with their loved ones, with their families, being able to social distance and quarantine at home going through their immigration proceedings," Shah said. "They shouldn't be locked up."